If you dream of going to Asia, but your crappy Berlin wage means you’ll never get the chance, Maison Umami is a great place to play pretend. Especially on date night.
It’s date night with a devilishly handsome man who had aggressively molested me at Motzstrassenfest, much to my delight. We head to Maison Umami – another incarnation of the ever-popular pan-Asian chain, Umami.
Since being in rehab, my love life has been a little… limp, so the opportunity to spend time with a sexy potential psychopath, maybe future boyfriend, was not one to pass up.
Our first mistake: sitting outside. The sun was shining, the opportunities for people watching were perfect and I thought that daylight would make better photos. While all these things may be true, the romantic interior of Maison Umami went to waste.
As you step off the graffitied Berlin street and through its doors, the attention to detail in the decor and furnishings bring the raw nature of Vietnam right to your feet.
Chain restaurants seem to be popping up everywhere: their soulless, corporate mission to crush their competition and eliminate variety from the Berlin streets.
Maison Umami is the third restaurant in the Umami chain, though it is first and foremost a family-run business. It includes the word “Maison” in the name – a reference to the fact that its owner, Tuyen Pham, grew up where the restaurant is, around Schlesisches Tor, after coming from Vietnam to be adopted by a German family. It is, in fact, his home.
His brothers – from Vietnam and Germany – were also involved in the restaurants’ success: in the kitchen, behind the bar and waiting tables. Even the logo of the restaurant is a fusion of the two cultures – a combination of the traditional Vietnamese house, with a glance towards Brandenburger Tor.
A huge menu with a big heart.
Their menu states the concept of the restaurant is love – love of food, love of family, love of sharing the aesthetic beauty and culinary arts of one culture with another. This ethos has also clearly been passed onto the team as it’s clear from the offset that the staff genuinely care about making sure that the guests have a good time – an attitude often alien to restaurant workers in Berlin.
Selection is vast: 14 different starters, 18 mains. The dishes are rich in umami flavours (see: restaurant name), and hail from all parts of South-East Asia. Personally, I love my meat (especially if it’s still attached to the man), but if you’re a vegetarian or vegan and have a love of Asian food, you won’t be disappointed: almost half of the dishes on the menu are vegetarian and vegan, and you won’t have to just stick with soy.
My saviour’s a smoothie.
First came the drinks. In hope of undoing some of the damage of my relentless chain-smoking, I opted for the Green Spleen from the Umami Homemades section: a combination of spinach, matcha and wheatgrass, amongst other things. It tasted pretty damn healthy, although I still woke up choking out an ashtray the next morning. Still, little steps…
“If I drink alcohol tonight I will fuck you right here on the street”
My date for the evening, unfortunately, also opted for something non-alcoholic, after advising me of the dangers of irresponsible consumption: “If I drink alcohol tonight I will fuck you right here on the street” (to which I heard my heart cry, “oh no! What a shame that would be!”). He chose the slightly sweeter Sommerbriese – a combination of pineapple, soy milk and lime juice, with a hint of mint.
For starters, we went with the Autumn Garden Salad and the Hoy Tay Pancakes. The salad was a refreshing and fruity bowl of zingy mango strips, herbs and slightly minty, succulent beef. For someone with limited experience of Asian cuisine, the combination seemed pretty unusual, but the flavours combined well on the palate.
The prawn pancakes were made of sweet potato and were perfectly crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside, and came with a tangy ginger dip.
For our mains, we chose the Tongkin’s Roast Duck and the Pho Love. The grilled barbary duck breast came topped with a Thai pesto (the combination of duck with Thai basil was perfect) and served on a bed of mouthwatering and crunchy wok-tossed vegetables in a hoisin sauce, with crispy-fried sweet potato sticks on the side.
If you like noodles, you should order the Pho Love. A delightfully rich bouillion with spring onions, bean sprouts and glass noodles, plus your choice of chicken or beef. Unfortunately, my date decided Asian noodles weren’t for him (it was his first time eating Asian food…) and so he left a large portion of his food untouched. My sense of decorum forced me to intervene.
The meal ends/the date starts?
In my experience, desserts in Asian restaurants are often not to my taste. Although, at Umami, I was very pleasantly surprised. I chose the Chiamama, a chia-seed pudding with coconut cream and fruits. It was light and refreshing, especially after the rich duck.
My date chose the Coco Banana Loaf. I expected this to be a hot mess after seeing all manner of banana abominations in my limited experience with Berlin Asian eateries.
It was, in fact, exactly as advertised – a coconut banana loaf with a caramelised glaze (rather than the deep-fried banana monstrosity, drowned in golden syrup that I had envisioned). I actually preferred it to my chia pudding. Served warm, the banana and coconut flavours of the loaf contrasted well with the fresh, tart berries. I’ll definitely be ordering this again next time.
Maison Umami proved a great choice for my date. I truly felt the love they’d promised, and it seemed to spread onto my date. Although, having spent so much of the evening eating, there was barely time to test that black-leather whip I’d had hiding in my backpack (and curfew time in my grey rehab cell was calling).
Next time I’ll make the reservation a little earlier.
Schlesische Straße 5